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Protesters tear down fencing around the National War Memorial

A group of people removed the fencing surrounding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the National War Memorial Saturday afternoon, as the demonstration against COVID-19 mandates continued in downtown Ottawa.

Security fences had surrounded the memorial since Jan. 30, after several incidents during the opening weekend of the "Freedom Convoy" demonstration. Video on social media showed an individual dancing on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the time.

Just after 1 p.m., a group of protesters began removing the fencing around the war memorial.  CTV News reporter Mackenzie Gray said people in the group appeared to be veterans.

"They were called up to the front to stand right at the front of the monument," Gray said on Twitter.

"They then did a prayer, where among other things, they called on the prime minister to drop vaccine mandates," Gray reported.

Several police officers were standing on Elgin Street near the National War Memorial as the fencing came down.

"It's significant that happened because people are trying to give a message that you can't just muzzle us, you can't put a mask over our face, you can't keep us away from this" said retired Maj. Harold Ristau, Canadian Armed Forces chaplain.

"If the fence goes up, that's not a hill to die on."

Demonstrators say the National War Memorial should be accessible.

"That's mine, that's veteran stuff there. We're on the same page here," said Ristau.

CTV News Ottawa reporter Colton Praill said it's believed Ottawa police won't reinstall the fence until it's deemed safe to do so.

The Royal Canadian Legion says the removal of the fencing is "deeply disturbing."

"The National War Memorial is a site of collective remembrance and must be treated with utmost respect at all times," the Legion said in a statement.

"The removal of protective barricades and the reported inaction by those charged with safeguarding this memorial, is deeply disturbing. We must ensure this site is not further desecrated. Those who sacrificed for our freedoms deserve better."

Minister of Veterans Affairs Lawrence MacAulay called the removal of the fences "completely unacceptable."

"Fences were put up to prevent the flagrant desecration and disrespect of our sacred monuments. This behaviour is disappointing and I’m calling on protesters to respect our monuments," MacAulay said on Twitter.

Ottawa police are still looking to identify a suspect after the desecration of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on Jan. 29. Video on social media showed someone standing on the monument, shouting "freedom."

Canada's chief of the defence staff said he was "sickened" to see video of people dancing on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier during the protest against COVID-19 vaccine mandates and other public health measures.

"I am sickened to see protesters dance on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and desecrate the National War Memorial," said Gen. Wayne Eyre in a message on Twitter on Jan. 29. "Generations of Canadians have fought and died for our rights, including free speech, but not this. Those involved should hang their heads in shame."

With files from CTV News Ottawa's Colton Praill and CTV News Mackenzie Gray Top Stories

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